Eleven years is a long time in the media world, as can be seen from a delightful Paul Finebaum column from 2006 (sent our way by Twitter user @JLKnoxville). Finebaum, then writing for AL.com, penned an amazing column bashing ESPN for their takes on the Alabama coaching search. That search wound up with Nick Saban, who many thought would be a failure; they were certainly wrong, as Saban has four championships to his credit already. Finebaum’s piece is worth looking at in its own right, though, as it happened before Alabama landed Saban (and even before Saban’s Dec. 21 comment that “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach”), and it saw him lobbing massive shots at ESPN in general and criticizing Jim Rome and Colin Cowherd in particular.
Rome and Cowherd are now at CBS and Fox respectively, and Finebaum is now at ESPN and the SEC Network. So it’s funny that Finebaum criticized an organization that he now works for, and that the two others in question no longer work at. But the best part is that Finebaum’s criticisms proved to be right. Here’s the column, from December 2, 2006, titled “ESPN out of line on Alabama”:
Who died and left the talking heads on ESPN in charge of the University of Alabama football program?
Unless you’ve been in a cave in recent days, it has been difficult to miss the continual stream of one invective after another leveled at the Crimson Tide football program, mostly from people who have probably never stepped foot in Bryant-Denny Stadium and couldn’t care less whether the program lives or dies.
Please don’t misunderstand me here. This program has seen better days and anyone who has read this space over the years has seen plenty of pointed criticism of the powers that be. And likely will again.
However, listening to these people on ESPN, one would think Mal Moore was an al-Qaida section chief and the school’s football program a secret training ground for terrorists.
Here is an example from one of ESPN’s highest-paid and most respected radio hosts, Colin Cowherd: “The one everyone thinks is such a great job and I don’t is Alabama. They have a bad athletic director, Bear Bryant’s son is your boss. They have wacko delusional boosters, an absurd and unrealistic scrutiny, hyper-competitive environment … What’s good about that?”
Jim Rome, the nation’s top sports-radio talker and host of ESPN’s “Rome is Burning” television show, said: “Maybe Alabama wouldn’t be so quick to have fired Mike Shula if they knew that nobody in America who mattered would be willing to step in and replace him. Look at who has already said no. Nick Saban: Pass. The Ol’ Ball Coach: No thanks. Frank Beamer: Why should I? Bobby Petrino: Downgrade. Rich Rodriguez: Make me. Oh, and Jim Leavitt wants nothing to do with you. That has to hurt. Being Alabama and getting the Heisman from the coach at South Florida, at least the U. was turned down by Rutgers. At this point, you might as well dig up Bear Bryant. Or better yet, see if Mike Price is still interested. Trust me, you’re not going to do any better. The front of the jersey may still say Alabama but in name only. That program is nowhere right now. It’s become an SEC afterthought. Enjoy the glory days of Bryant, Namath, Stabler, Stallings, Alexander, Price because that’s all you have and that is not going to change.”
These people make it sound like the school fired Shula after a 12-0 season and three SEC titles. How many times do we need to repeat that Shula was incompetent and if it hadn’t been for his daddy’s name, he couldn’t have gotten a job on his own managing a 7-Eleven.
Shula had one winning season in four years. Hello!
As for all these people who have turned down the job, that is beyond laughable. I’ll admit that watching this coaching search on a minute-to-minute basis is akin to the old line about watching sausage being made at a meat-packing plant: The eats are good but the process is nauseating to witness.
But how many coaching searches really go very well?
Notre Dame was blindsided by the same media geniuses two years ago after firing Ty Willingham. It was turned down by Urban Meyer and had to settle for Charlie Weis, who will likely take the Irish to consecutive BCS bowls. [Note: This is actually right! Weis’ Notre Dame team got a Sugar Bowl berth soon after this, their second straight BCS berth. But then the wheels fell off.]
Still, to insinuate that people like Jim Leavitt have turned down Alabama is intellectually dishonest and a travesty to responsible journalism.
I don’t know who Alabama will end up with during this coaching search. When it’s all said and done, it’s possible this search will rank with the worst in modern history. Still, give the university officials a little bit of credit. It appears they aimed for the moon by locking into arguably the two best head coaches in the Southeastern Conference in the past 15 years – Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier.
Have they been given the runaround by gunslinger agents and perhaps been misled by intermediaries? Sure, anything’s possible. Should they have been better prepared? Absolutely.
In a perfect world, would any major corporation with the kind of multi-million dollar revenues like Alabama want someone as maladroit as Mal Moore running the search for a new CEO? Probably not. The man has the decisiveness of a tortoise.
But don’t let anyone kid you, this is still a very, very attractive job. It has an amazingly passionate fan base and facilities that put almost any other school in the nation to shame.
Many have said the culture down here is untenable. Ridiculous. Would you rather have fans second-guessing you after a win or clapping for you after a loss – like Spurrier encountered this year at South Carolina.
Sure, Alabama hangs too tightly to its past and tradition. But why not when you have a former coach who was the best and a tradition that is among the top two in college football history.
Alabama has made countless mistakes over the years, but one of the best things it has done this year was to correct the blunder of hiring Shula. The school should be congratulated for that. The easy way out was to ignore the problems and watch the program slip deeper into the abyss. Instead, the school did the right thing, the intelligent thing, and is being attacked from one end of the sports world to another.
Fair criticism comes with the territory. Believe me, I make a living doing just that. However, these talking heads at ESPN are comical and every time they open their mouths about the subject of the University of Alabama, they stick a foot deeper down their collective throats.
The joke isn’t the University of Alabama football program. Instead, it’s the critics at ESPN who don’t have the first clue about what they are talking about.